Ministry of Justice proposals to use young offender institutions (YOIs) to house adult prisoners have led to debate over the impact of budget cuts on youth justice.
Campaigners have welcomed the decision to scrap plans for a 360-bed child prison in Leicestershire and the proposed use of an Oxfordshire YOI as an adult prison, a move that would involve rehousing young offenders in other YOIs.
But there are warnings that spending cuts could also affect secure children’s homes.
Prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt said plans for the Leicestershire prison, which was to be built on the site of Glen Parva YOI, had been shelved to help the MoJ save £325m.
The MoJ also confirmed that Huntercombe YOI in Oxfordshire – which holds 150 young people but has space for 360 – could be redesignated as an adult prison to deliver savings.
Blunt said: “The number of juveniles in custody is falling so it makes financial sense for us to boost the adult prison capacity by increasing the number of prison places available on existing sites – an alternative that provides substantially better value for the taxpayer.”
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said she hoped this meant the financial climate would “offer an opportunity to inject some sanity into our prisons policy”.
However, she also pointed out that spending cuts could see decisions made that put vulnerable children at risk.
“Children in custody are not just affected by the MoJ budget cuts,” she said. “They are likely to rely on a number of public services. Young and vulnerable children who would have been sent to costly secure children’s homes may now find themselves sent to prison.”
Sources told Community Care that the government was likely to reduce the number of young people in custody but would also be looking to reduce the use of expensive secure children’s homes in favour of secure training centres.
Critics say this would result in young offenders lacking the support needed to rehabilitate them.